Posted by Lilli Cannon on 8/27/2010
So your diapers smell like ammonia.  Not a pleasant smell, and if left too long, it will cause a rash.  Why is this happening, and how can you fix it?

Ammonia smell is caused by three things: uric acid crystals formed by urine drying in the diaper, detergent residue, and bacteria in the layers of the fabric.  To fix it, you need to attack it on all three fronts.

The first thing is to rinse all morning diapers and any very soaked diaper in fresh water.  The Diaper Sprayer is the easiest way to do this.  This will help prevent the uric acid crystals from forming.

Second is to kill the bacteria buildup in the fabric.  The easiest way to do this is with plain old chlorine bleach.  "Bleach?!" you say.  "I thought I couldn't use bleach on my diapers."  Well, this is my dirty (clean?) little secret - I use bleach on most of my diapers and they are just fine.  Now this may void some manufacturer warranties, and it can destroy waterproofing if used in large amounts, but used judiciously, it cures a lot of problems.  In fact, bumGenius actually recommends it once a month.  If you are concerned, the safest thing to do is just bleach the inserts or prefolds (you have to be careful with fitteds b/c they are often dyed cotton and this color will fade  PUL colors won't fade but again, be careful with the waterproofing.)  I only use 1 tablespoon in a whole load of diaper inserts about once a month, then rinse it twice, and my diapers smell fresh and clean.  If you really don't want to do this, you can try the "Sanitary" cycle on your front-loader on the inserts/prefolds.  This can also harm waterproofing on some PUL, so be careful.

Third is to make sure that you are not using too much detergent on a regular basis.  You can check this by doing a normal wash cycle, and then turning it back on hot and seeing if any suds form.  If so, you have been using too much all along, and stripping them and using less will help.

Finally, if all else fails, reserving 2 or 3 cheap diapers/inserts for nighttime and replacing them regularly can be a lifesaver.  Prefolds and flats make great cheap pocket diaper inserts and can be replaced when you feel they are too gross.

The requisite legal disclaimer (which I hate but my legal training requires it): This is my own experience and I cannot promise that it will work for you or that the bleach won't cause a problem.  I highly doubt it if you use 1 tablespoon once a month, but you do so at your own risk!



Jennifer Beers
Date: 8/27/2010 4:21:29 PM
Thank you for posting this! So helpful. I just got rid of ammonia, but it took forever. I never thought of bleach! If it happens again, I know what I'm reaching for first.
Date: 8/27/2010 4:25:39 PM
Lilli, do you have a front loader? Just wondering if that 1 T is for a front loader or a top loader. Thanks!
Jamie Williamson
Date: 8/27/2010 4:30:26 PM
Thanks sooo much! I have been strugling with ammonia smells no matter how many extra rinses i use! I will try this next time I wash. :)
Date: 8/27/2010 4:35:32 PM
I used 1 tablespoon in both my top loader and now in my front loader.
Jamie Williamson
Date: 8/27/2010 4:46:58 PM
Thanks sooo much! I have been strugling with ammonia smells no matter how many extra rinses i use! I will try this next time I wash. :)
Autumn Boyer
Date: 8/27/2010 5:13:20 PM
I guess I'll have to suck it up and wash my PULs separately once in a while so I can treat my inserts and prefolds for ammonia. Thanks for the tips!
Date: 8/27/2010 7:39:35 PM
I had heard that vinegar in the pre-wash will take care of diaper odor, too. Have you heard of this as an alternative to bleach?
Jessica Atlas
Date: 8/28/2010 7:35:54 AM
Vinegar doesn't work quite as well, but I have started using bleach about once a month and all I do is wash everything in a cold rinse, hot/2 cold rinses, then take out the shells to line dry and do an extra hot/2 cold with bleach with just the inserts. I am going to try rinsing their overnight dipes, though.
elizabeth findley
Date: 8/28/2010 1:26:45 PM
THank you sooo much! I've been struggling with ammonia smells for months now. Some methods decrease the smell, but nothing has completely solved my problem. I will definitely have to try this!
Date: 9/1/2010 10:31:02 AM
I am trying these suggestions now for the first time! I am really excited for a better result since we have been battling amonia with our FL since the very beginning. Amonia burn on our DD's tush is not nice.
Date: 9/13/2010 8:50:47 PM
I just raised the temperature on my hot water tank and it has made all the difference. The previous people here had it low. I had tried everything, RnG soaks, Dawn, you name it. Dd's skin was a mess and I thought I was going to have to go back to disposables b/c I could at least use my triple paste with them. I lower the temperature after I do the laundry to keep the kids safe, but I can't believe that was all that was all that it took.
April Neiderhiser
Date: 11/30/2010 12:51:21 PM
I have read that adding a few drops of tea tree oil to the rinse cycle helps. I haven't tried it yet b/c I am waiting to get it in the mail. I add baking soda to the detergergent and fill the fabric softener compartment with vinegar. They smell fine when they come out, but when she wets them is when the smell returns. I will try adding the bleach or even hydrogen peroxide to the bleach compartment. I also read that hydrogen peroxide is safer than bleach. It has a ton of uses too! I will try wash
Sarah Sanchez
Date: 3/3/2011 11:10:28 PM
I also use bleach once a month or so. I wash all my diapers as normal and then pull out the covers and pocket shells and do a soak cycle with bleach for the inserts then rinse (actually run through a heavy cycle - has an extra rinse). Tea tree oil can help kill bacteria, but the oil may actually cause more build up... I would try it only in the wash cycle, not rinse. I had such bad ammonia problems that I hated using my cloth for a while - once I started the bleaching and rinsing EVERY diaper
Robin Karasinski
Date: 3/22/2011 8:32:45 PM
I have not had this problem ... yet, since I am new to cloth but its good to have some info so I can be better prepared if/when this happens ... THANKS!
melanie linck
Date: 9/15/2011 7:33:37 PM
Thank you so much for the information. This will really help keep our diapers fresh!
Michelle Tyler
Date: 1/27/2012 11:52:27 PM
Will oxygen bleaches work as well (or nearly as well) as chlorine bleach for ammonia?
Date: 9/22/2012 12:59:18 AM
Thank you for assessing this just the way I was thinking. I'm new to cloth and frankly ammonia worries me! I've been rinsing after diapering just to promote ammonia stop :)
Farrah Roth
Date: 12/2/2013
When you add the T of bleach, do you add soap too? Or do you wash them like normal, then do the load again with the bleach only?
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